Gameday Breakdown: No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 14 TCU

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) gets past TCU guard Mike Miles (1) for a reverse layup late in the second half on Tuesday, March 3, 2022 at Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (16-2 overall, 5-1 Big 12) vs. No. 14 TCU Horned Frogs (14-4 overall, 3-3 Big 12)

Time: 12 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023

Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas

TV: CBS | Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network via Learfield

Keys for Kansas

1. Beware of the TCU transition

Kansas coach Bill Self said this week that one of the biggest areas of concern with the Horned Frogs was their ability to score on the run.

In addition to ranking 47th in adjusted tempo per KenPom.com — three points better than the national average — TCU also ranks 28th in average possession length at 15.8 seconds per possession.

That’s barely using half of the shot clock and the Frogs, who enter this one averaging 77.3 points per game, get nearly one third of their points on the fast break.

“TCU is the best team, by far, in transition in our league,” Self said Thursday. “By far. I think they’re averaging like 24 points a game in transition, which is a ridiculously high number.”

The Frogs were right around 24 points per game in transition prior to Tuesday’s loss at West Virginia, but the number dropped to 21.2 after the Mountaineers held them to eight transition points in a 74-65 win.

Self called that stat, “a big reason why (West Virginia) won the game.”

Their three games against the Jayhawks last season also illustrate how important transition can be for TCU. In a dominant 10-point win over the Jayhawks in Fort Worth, Texas, TCU tallied 15 points in transition. In their two losses to KU, they combined for 11, including just a single point in a Big 12 tournament loss.

2. Limit Lampkin early

After breaking through in a big way as a freshman, TCU big man Eddie Lampkin Jr. has taken his game to another level during his sophomore season.

He ranks sixth in the conference in rebounds per game (7) and leads the Big 12 with 3.5 offensive rebounds per game, which ranks 16th nationally. His 16.8% offensive rebounding clip ranks 11th nationally, as well.

Above all of that, he’s also a load of man at 6-foot-11, 263 pounds, and he likes to use his size and athleticism to bully opponents.

It’s no secret that KU’s front court is a bit undersized and pretty inexperienced. So active hands and feet, help from the guards and double teams will be huge in this one if the Jayhawks hope to limit Lampkin.

The Jayhawks will lean on KJ Adams to use his strength and athleticism to try to match up. Given what Kansas has behind Adams at the 5, expect TCU to go at the KU sophomore early in hopes of getting him in foul trouble and out of the game.

“With the exception of foul problems in Manhattan, he’s done a good job of basically neutralizing other bigs, in my opinion, with his quickness and athletic ability,” Self said of Adams. “But he’s very important to us not to get in foul trouble. I’m sure they’ll try to play to (Lampkin), especially early in the game.”

3. McCullar bounce-back

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. had a rough outing in the Jayhawks’ road loss at Kansas State. In addition to fouling out and playing less than 30 minutes, McCullar attempted just two shots and looked otherwise sluggish and disengaged from start to finish.

Getting back to Allen Fieldhouse and getting the chance to respond in another massive test should be just what McCullar needs to get back on track.

The best way for him to do that won’t be to hoist up a bunch of shots and try to play hero ball. Instead, he just needs to find ways to impact the game, whether he’s scoring or not.

KU freshman Gradey Dick did a great job of that in the loss at K-State on a night when he shot 1-of-8 from 3-point range. Dick got to the glass, recorded four steals and made the right plays throughout. His shots just didn’t fall and he turned it over a little more than he wished he had.

McCullar seemed to let his offensive struggles impact his overall game, which is something that he had largely avoided up to that point.

The best way for him to get back on track in this one — outside of making shots — might be on the glass. TCU’s defense ranks 291st in offensive rebounds, allowing its opponents to get 31.7% of their own misses back.

McCullar has the size, skills and athleticism to be effective in that area against anybody. And emphasizing that might even lead to a couple of easy baskets that can get his offense going again, as well.

Marquee Matchup: Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Mike Miles Jr. vs. mid-season favorite Jalen Wilson

Both teams have plenty of players who can impact any game in a big way. But there’s little doubt that Miles and Wilson are the two top dogs on their respective teams and that makes for a heck of a matchup in this one.

At 19.1 points per game, Miles ranks second in the Big 12 to Wilson’s 20.8 average, but Miles has played 150 fewer minutes and scored nearly 100 fewer points than Wilson.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Miles has been terrific in his 15 games this season. Dating back to last season, he has scored in double figures in 20 consecutive games and is currently the only player from a Power 5 conference averaging 19 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3 assists per game.

Wilson’s close, averaging a couple more points, six more rebounds per game and 2.6 assists per game.

This matchup isn’t exactly a clash of two players who figure to guard each other very often. But they’re both prime-time players; they both are on the Oscar Robertson Trophy’s midseason watch list, which is given annually to college basketball’s best player; and, for both teams, they are the most likely options to get the ball with the game on the line.

This may not be a classic X’s and O’s matchup between two players and their strengths, weaknesses and styles, but there’s no one out there who would look past these two as the biggest keys for their respective offenses in this top-15 showdown.

Self noted this week that a case can be made at any time for Miles, Lampkin, Emanuel Miller and Damion Baugh all being TCU’s best player. Their depth, versatility and overall talent will make this challenge every bit as tough as the three games against TCU were for the Jayhawks.

Jayhawk Pulse

This is a big game for the Jayhawks, who entered the week with a chance to take full control of a tied up Big 12 race but now find themselves in danger of slipping into a precarious position.

Should the Jayhawks lose this one and K-State win at home against Texas Tech, Kansas suddenly would find itself one game back in the race, with the tiebreaker currently belonging to the Wildcats. It’s still early, but it’s also not going to get any easier.

That, plus the desire to bounce back from Tuesday’s tough road loss, should have KU’s full attention. The Jayhawks own an amazing 109-16 record under Self in games after losses. That includes a 58-7 record in such games since the 2013-14 season.

KU leads the all-time series with TCU, 24-3, including a 10-0 mark in games played inside Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks have won 10 of the last 11 against Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs, who enter the game two games back in the Big 12 race, having lost three of their last four in conference play.

KenPom has Kansas as a 9-point favorite, with a 79% win probability.

Probable Starters

No. 2 Kansas

G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 175, Jr.

G – Kevin McCullar Jr., 6-6, 210, Sr.

G – Gradey Dick, 6-8, 205, Fr.

F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Soph.

F – KJ Adams, 6-7, 225, Soph.

No. 14 TCU

G – Mike Miles Jr., 6-2, 195, Jr.

G – Damion Baugh, 6-4, 194, Sr.

F – Emanuel Miller, 6-7, 217, Sr.

F – Chuck O’Bannon Jr., 6-6, 215, Sr.

C – Eddie Lampkin Jr., 6-11, 263, Soph.

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